Sunday, 4 December 2016

Swansong Part 1: Journey to a Bitter Sea



Abbey Road gets a lot more dirtbag! 
Matt Springall, Lloyd Wishart, Pommy (Front), Jenga (Back), and me. Photo by: Julian Hurrell

Jenga crushes Eye of the Tiger (29) at Muline.
Photo by: Julian Hurrell
When last I signed off I was down in the Grampians, battling record-breaking floods and struggling to extricate my Delica from where I'd gotten it bogged to the axles on a muddy road. Suffice to say, we got it free (after 3 hours of efforts, and a bit of help from an NRMA guy with a snatch-strap), so you don't need to send out a search party to look for us.

Me: about to get spat off Desert Rose (27)... again.
Photo by: Julian Hurrell
Despite the most rubbish weather of all time, we soldiered on and even managed to score a few fairly respectable ticks. Jenga, of course, crushed everything he set about: cruising Tyranny (29), Eye of the Tiger (29), Tunnel to Caracas (28) and Spurt Girl (28) (to name just a few) in short order. With the abysmal weather writing-off the more majestic faces for the duration of our trip, I was forced to climb out of my comfort zone and confront the steep stuff. I managed to continue my streak of falling off the crux of Desert Rose (27) (though I did score some excellent Drone-pictures, thanks to Julian Hurrell), but had a few small successes at Spurt Wall. My only real accolade was ticking Shattering Reflections of Climbers Ability (25), a traddy variant to the infamous Shattering Reflections of Narcissism (29) which pikes out at about half way on trad for a rad trad mini-adventure.

All things considered, the fact that we managed to climb every day of the trip, coupled with the lunacy brought about by our shared suffering (misery loves company!) made it a fun venture, so it was worth the time (and money) to get there.



The Journey


After returning home, it was time to knuckle down in my search for a job. I updated my resume, bookmarked a few careers sites, shaved off my dirtbag beard (!!!), bought a business shirt, pants and a tie, and starting submitting applications. But like all things in this world, finding a job takes time, so in the interim I set about trying to send my existing bolted route on the superb Sublime Point East Face... and add a few more Projects next to it.

Will Monks on Subliminal P2 (65m 23).
Photo by: Neil Monteith
If you haven't climbed on this face, Neil Monteith's original line there -Subliminal (3-pitch 90m 23)- is a rap-in climb-out mind-blowing journey, with sustained, technical climbing on the most perfect "psuedo-limestone" rock in the Blueys. It features oodles of empty air and gnarly arete climbing for added exposure. It's one of the most inspiring (in terms of quality and location) chunks of rock I've found during my time in the Blueys, and from the first time I went out there to investigate a prospective route that I'd observed (while climbing Subliminal, years before) I was addicted.

Knowing that it would be hard to find belayers for the route I bolted a year ago (which I estimated at 40m 26/27), I investigated another adjacent line which appeared to be somewhat easier, and might make for good "belayer bait" while I went after my harder line. About a month later, I would end up also bolting the last "independent" line on the face, leaving me with 3 tough-ish projects in an adventurous environment to get through.







The original routes on the East Face:
BLUE: Subliminal (90m 3-pitch 23)***
PURPLE: Subliminated (80m 2-pitch 24)**
RED: Castaway (90m 4-pitch 21)*
GREEN: Unconscious Corner (4-pitch 20)
Once again, I managed to convince my Old Man to belay me on the first ascent of the "new and easier" line on the left. Considering he always seems to forget about how unpleasant these rap-in climb-out adventures often are for him, I can only assume that he really IS going Senile. Hooray for senility (and my ability to exploit it to score a belay)!

At any rate, after warming up at home, the Golden Oldie and I headed out to Sublime Point East right as the sun departed the wall for the day (about midday) and rapped the 80m to the semi-hanging (but surprisingly cosy) belay at the very bottom of the wall, scarcely a foot above the void. This belay is shared by all 3 of my new routes, and also one of the original multipitches on the face: Castaway (4-pitch 21). Jumping straight in the deep end, I had 2 shots at the Project and fell off about 2/3rds of the way up the first (40m) pitch, both times on the same sequence. Starting to doubt that I'd be able to send this "easier" line, I was trying to work out how I'd lure another belayer out there even as I set off for one last lap of the day.

The pitch climbs about 12m of 21/22 thin face, then heads into a radical 6m leftwards traverse on super-funky (and very improbable) natural pockets and crimps. From here you launch up a powerful V3 boulder-problem with some seriously tricky footwork. Cruising through this, you enter the red-point crux of the route: a power-endurance test as the wall steepens, and the holds become extremely slippery and slopey. The overall theme of this climb is "resistance test", and previously I'd failed the test on this section both times. Surprisingly, on my 3rd shot of the day, I stuck the sequence (in part because I didn't stop to clip any of the bolts through this section), with only a single hard move remaining between success and failure.



My Old Man abseiling in to the
Castaway belay stance.
The final crux (affectionately known as the "snakebite move", due to the fang-like way you hold the crux holds) isn't particularly hard in isolation, but it's tenuous and unpredictable when you're trashed, and I was nervous as I went into the sequence. With my heart in my throat, I stuck the move and endured the easier climbing to the end of the first "pitch", 40m above the belay. I could've rested on my laurels here (since I'd included an interim belay out to the right to facilitate working the route, and to avoid the potentially catastrophic rope drag of climbing the entire 65m route as a continuous pitch), but for the full-tick I opted to continue all the way to the top (past one more gr23 sequence and lots of pleasant gr20) in one mega pitch. Even with strategically placed long runners, I will admit that the rope drag WAS bad.













Carlos, mid-way through the super-rad traverse crux, on
what would ultimately be his Send lap.
And so, New Route #1 went down, named Sabbatical (65m 26) in honour of reaching the 2 year mark of my extended "vacation" from the world of full-time employment. Unfortunately it had ended up being a bit harder than I was hoping (so much for my "grade 24 belayer-bait route"), but it IS utterly spectacular, and along with The Obvious Elbow (of Aristocrat Arthur Decanter) (58m 26) at Pierces Pass, it is a contender for the best thing I've ever bolted. This route has since had successful repeats by Carlos (who climbed with me in Tassie) and Ben Jenga, and a mighty Onsight effort by Ro Latimer, and all were very psyched with the quality of the route.

1 down, 2 to go...



A photo of the mind-blowing traverse.
Yes, I'm pretty psyched about it... Can you tell?
The next on my list was the direct line up the guts of the face, which was the route I'd bolted a year earlier, just before my trip to America. Unfortunately, after the Send of Sabbatical, my Old Man and I had tried "walking out" from the bottom of the cliff (on advice from Neil "I have the memory of a Goldfish" Monteith that it was possible and (quote): "wasn't too bad"). As it turned out, this involved another 30m abseil to a loose shale ledge, 30min of extremely loose and sketchy bush-bashing, and eventually a roped climb up a scarily loose, vegetated, death-fall slope to reach "The Shady Lady Wall" and the main Sublime Point walking track. The whole journey was so epic (and dodgy) that my Old Man decreed that he would never belay me at Sublime Point East again (I have to hope that his Senility overwhelms his vehemence about this over time), and I was now without a reliable belayer.


Carlos about to enter the final "snakebite" crux,
and seconds away from Sending the route!
Enter Ro Latimer, my climbing partner from a previous trip to France and Switzerland, whom I'd also encountered during my time in Spain. Young Ro was also a fellow full-time climbing bum (steadily achieving 3 years of Professional Unemployment, with only the odd brief break for some casual work to bolster his coffers). Despite once-upon-a-time identifying as a boulderer (at least he did when I FIRST met him), Ro had progressed to Sport Climber, globe-trotter, and eventually "full-on adventurous nutjob (he's actually been enthusiastic about Trad climbing lately, which inevitably means that his next stop is either the Old Folks Home or a foray into Mountaineering). Ro was psyched to try and repeat Sabbatical (and chuck a lap on Subliminal), and was willing to come and belay me on my Project... Nice one, Ro!

By this time I'd gotten adept at rigging the East Face with numerous fixed ropes to facilitate ease-of-access (according to Neil Monteith: I'd turned his adventurous climbing environment into Consumer-equipped Multipitch Cragging), so the trek from car to belay could now be achieved in about 15min. Again we rap in, do a bit of a warmup, and I'm off up the new route. This line shares the 12m face-climbing start with Sabbatical, but breaks off after the easy start and heads almost directly up the wall. It kicks off the independent section with a bang, serving you a V4 shallow, slopey, pocketed boulder problem (including some 1-pad monos to keep it interesting) to a good hold. Originally I thought that this would be the crux, but apparently training at the ShredShed really DOES have benefits, as I'd managed to totally dial this sequence during my 2 previous days of Top Rope-Soloing the route before Ro's arrival.

Looking at the Sublime Point East main face.
This beautiful slice of rock hosts my 3 new routes.
Generally speaking, this route is more sustained than Sabbatical, but it doesn't really have the intense "resistance" red-point crux that makes Sabbatical a tough tick. This route never gets easier than gr22, but inbetween each of the 4 cruxes it drops BACK to gr22, which gives you time to recover. At no point are you falling off because you've got nothing left in the fuel tank, you're falling off because the sequences are hard. As it turned out, the 4th and final crux is 32m up the route (right as the pressure and weariness are reaching an apex), and amounts to a thin and reachy solid V4 sequence that I only managed to solve -during my time working the route on TRS- by using 3 different heel-toe-cam placements in a horizontal break out to the right, which I change as my body shifts through the sequence. On my first shot of the day, for whatever reason (a low gravity day, perhaps?), I latched the crucial hold (a 1/2 pad sloper-crimp) with my fingertips and stuck the sequence. And suddenly I was through the hard climbing, with only 6m of gr22 face climbing to the top! When I bolted this route a year ago, I hadn't deemed to add another bolt to protect this final 6m, which turned out to be a bad idea considering the context of the rest of the climb (and I've since returned and added that extra bolt), but when I did the First Ascent I placed an interim #2 cam on the Send lap, which I'd carried up the entire climb for just that purpose. And as inauspiciously as it began, New Route #2 -Sojourn (40m 26/27), named in honour of my 8 months spent down in Tassie- was done and dusted.

2 down, 1 to go...

The line of Sojourn (40m 26/27), a year ago
(when I bolted it).
With these routes finished, my attention turned to the one remaining "independent" line up the face: the rightmost weakness with its own start from the same belay stance as my other two routes. Though it was immediately obvious that it wasn't as good as Sabbatical or Sojourn -unlike the other routes here it didn't go right to the top of the cliff; the rock quality wasn't as high (though it's still very good by Blueys standards); and it's extremely cruxy), it was still a 2-star route by the standards of this particular cliff (and would be a classic at most of the consumer crags in the Blueys). Out of a sense of completeness (to be "finished" with this crag), as well as a desire to see the last line of the face developed "tastefully" (with a view to the ethic and adventurousness of the area, as well as to ensure that the entire climb was kept "natural" (with no "enhancements" to make the line go to the top of the cliff, or to make the crux less cruxy)), I bolted this line, and dragged out the original developer of the area (and my usual partner in crime), Neil Monteith to help me complete this Journey.







Top Left: Jumaaring out from the belay of The Face Race (35m 24)
Top Right: About to abseil in to the Sublime Point East Face.
Bottom Left: Rapping the East Face.
Bottom Right: On the Send Lap of Swansong (30m 25).
Unlike my other 2 -harder- routes at Sublime Point East, I hadn't practiced this route on Top Rope Solo (other than a quick lap to "piece it together" before bolting it), so I wasn't particularly confident that I could Send it. Neil and I spent the morning freeing one of his new routes -The Face Race (35m 24)- in the rap-in climb-out upper section of Bentrovato Wall (also at Sublime Point, and also one of my favourite faces in the Blueys), which Neil did 2nd shot, and I was lucky enough to flash. After that I returned to the East Face one last time.















The NEW routes on the East Face:
RED: Sabbatical (2-pitch 80m 26)***
BLUE: Sojourn (2-pitch 80m 26/27)***
GREEN: Swansong (30m 25)**
PURPLE: The original routes on the face.

NOTE: I bolted Swansong so it's possible to
finish up Castaway (as a 5-pitch climb) to top
out.
New Route #3 has some hard moves immediately off the belay, but by the 2nd bolt it eases back to about grade 22 climbing, slowly building in intensity over the next 15m as the holds get smaller and smaller. Though the entire route is a slab, it's a very awkward style of slabbing (with extreme body positions being necessary to utilise the sparse hand and footholds), and requires good friction to stay in contact with the miniscule edges. A micro-crimp sequence guards the first crux, which involves more tiny edges and high feet as you gain the height to shoulder-press into a flake-feature and achieve the main crux: an extremely complex sequence of small slimpers, and shallow mono-pockets and gastons, culminating in a dead-point move to a sloper-pocket. This sequence felt utterly impossible initially, but with some very improbable footwork it became achievable, and despite the grossly slippery-slimy humidity I managed to stick it on link on my 3rd shot of the day, thus sending the last Project packing. If I had to grade this sequence, I'd call it "tricky V4 slab", but -without spouting specific beta- my advice to anyone attempting it would be: if you're crimping extremely hard, you're doing it wrong.

And so it was that the last of the independent lines on the Sublime Point East Face was done and dusted, with: Swansong (30m 25), marking the impending end to my 2 year odyssey as a climbing bum(bly), and the end of this journey on the East Face. Sabbatical (65m 26) -> Sojourn (40m 26+) -> Swansong (30m 25).



Embracing a Bitter Sea


As I hinted at above, by this point in time I was coming extremely close to acquiring a new job (being in the final round of interviews for 2 different roles, and having just had very successful behavioural interviews, I was only awaiting the official date of my execution), so I had really come to feel that the clock was ticking. I used my remaining time to push myself a bit with some classic Blueys hard-ish Sporty Sport climbing, and was rewarded with a few sends that I'm proud of (particularly because they didn't entirely suit me stylistically), foremost of which was finally getting around to ticking Superweak (20m 26) at Diamond Falls.

And then, the (ultimately) inevitable happened: I got a job! Somewhat surprisingly, it was back with Telstra. This wasn't a bad thing, as I'd had a good journey during my (almost) 10 years with Telstra, and I was more than happy to go back to work for them. My commencement date was in 2 weeks time, which meant that now I really WAS on the clock... what to achieve in my remaining 2 weeks?

Looking at the line of Alive in a
Bitter Sea
(from the belay at the
top of Echo Crack). It climbs the
vague blunt arete in the center-
right of the photo.
The reality is that despite having a long list of things that I'd "like to achieve", I really only had 1 primary objective left on the list I'd assembled since returning from Tassie: a clean repeat (placing the gear on lead) of Alive in a Bitter Sea (4-pitch 90m 25 R/X) at Katoomba Cliffs, directly below Echo Point lookout. From when I first looked over at Echo Crack and the adjacent blank face immediately to the right of it (which Alive in a Bitter Sea boldy tackles) while climbing Genghis Khan (200m Trad 22/23), I knew that I had to climb it one day. But like Archimedes Principle, or Samarkand, or Echo Crack, or I Have a Dream, it was one of those "one day I'll climb it... (but that day will never come)" sorts of impulses. And just like Archimedes Principle, Samarkand, Echo Crack and I Have a Dream, that day -improbably- had arrived.














Warwick Baird on the first ascent of Alive
in a Bitter Sea (4-pitch 25 R/X)
First climbed in 1986 by Warwick Baird (one of my local heroes) and David Grey, the route harkens back to that terrifying era of Australian climbing when the sporty blank faces were being tackled in traditional style (before the advent of true sport climbing, or more conventionally equipped mixed routes), resulting in headpointed routes with minimal carrot bolt protection (usually only to mitigate a proper X-rated fall potential), surrounded by extremely spaced trad placements. It's a route which probably has no real place to exist with a view to modern styles of climbing, yet stands as a testament to just how ballsy (and possibly insane) our forebearers were. The wall that it tackles is immense in size, in blankness, and in aesthetic beauty. Residing next to the immortal Echo Crack, Alive in a Bitter Sea starts 100m off the deck (from the "half-height shale band" that runs most of the length of the Katoomba cliffs), and assaults the inspiring blankness via a linked pair or shallow corners, and a proud line of very blunt aretes that run the length of the wall. Visible from Honeymoon Point (the bridge over to the Three Sisters), and from drone-operating tourists on the Echo Point Viewing platform, climbing any of the routes in this area is tantamount to performing at a Circue Du Soleil show, with the onlookers "oo-ing" and "aah-ing" at your every move, and a series of angry bees (Drones) buzzing around your head. In short, it's a complete package, guaranteed to lead you through the full gamut of physical and emotional experiences.


Halfway along my fixed-rope traverse to
gain the belay above Pitch 3 (on top of the
teetering blocks a few meters further right).
Now, before we begin, I just want to say that I've had mixed feedback regarding various aspects of my "interaction" with this route. In particular, my decision to replace the original mild-steel bash-in carrot bolts like for like (with stainless glue-in carrots, rather than replacing them with rings, or retro-bolting the entire route), as well as my advocacy of this as a headpoint route (the style in which I approached it, considering that it's potentially dangerous -and at the very least, it's extremely BOLD-, and also relatively close to my climbing limit) which, obviously, is considered "unfashionable" these days. Feel free to leave your scathing criticism on my blog, I'm always interested in what people have to say (I just can't gaurentee I'll take any of it to heart).

Deciding to commit my remaining freedom to trying to repeat this route, the first challenge is getting to the top of it, which involves climbing over a fence near the Echo Point lower viewing platform (and scaring the shit out of the tourists, all of whom inevitably assume that you're off to commit suicide) and a short scramble down through a forested section to arrive at the belay at the top of Echo Crack. From here you do an exciting 10m grade 15 traverse across the top of the Echo crack corner (with a spectacular 200m of exposure), past a few gear placements, some original bash-in carrots, and a few newer bolts to arrive at the belay at the top of Pitch 3 of Alive in a Bitter Sea (pitch 4 being the traverse back to the mainland). I wasn't willing to lead-solo across this traverse (its rather intimidating on first inspection), and recruited Rene for belay duties. I fixed a rope across the traverse line for the duration of my time on the route (and probably went back and forth at least 10 times across it before I took it down), and set up 80m of fixed ropes down the route.

"We're gonna die!!!" Neil Monteith and I on the belay below P1.
I spent the first day inspecting the route and trying to work out exactly where it went (it's not immediately obvious at some points), roughly what the climbing would consist of, what gear I would need and how sketchy it was. I didn't really try and climb any of it seriously. I also discovered that if any of the original bash-in carrots failed (there are 3 on the First Pitch, 3 on the Second Pitch, and 2 on the Third Pitch) the length of the fall could be potentially catastrophic (especially for sheering subsequent carrots or ripping gear). Now I've taken some big whippers on ancient rusty carrots and have generally found them to be surprisingly reliable, but my concern here was caused by the enormous streaks of rust beneath MOST of the bolts, meaning that water was getting in behind them somehow, and causing accelerated corrosion below the surface of the rock. Obviously I couldn't visibly determine what their sheering strength would be in their current state (it might have been okay), and so I made the decision that I would replace the carrots like for like (though with glue-in Stainless carrots I'd made a few years earlier) IF I decided that the route was worth my time and effort.

Running it out above "average" gear on
P1 (24 R/X). Good thing I like stemming!
The second day I had 2 laps on Top Rope Solo working each of the 4 pitches, and quickly determining that the climbing was amazing, it was bloody hard, the gear was consistently EXTREMELY run-out, and one all-gear section on the First Pitch probably warranted an R/X rating (not quite being a true X-rated section). In short, you would need to climb a 10m gr23 section with several clusters of "okay" gear, which couldn't be positioned optimally for the direction of fall based on where you would be climbing (a rising traverse across the line of the gear). Additionally, one of the crucial bits of gear (a large wire) would be behind a mostly-detached moving flake. Though that in itself mightn't have warranted an R/X rating (and I was feeling fairly confident about jumping on the sharp end), a swinging fall that I took while Top Rope soloing succeeded in ripping out all of the pieces of pro above me, reminding me that the limited positioning of the gear made this one section particularly risky.









Yes, this flake actually moves... And yes
I'm relying on a big wire placed behind
it to stop a rather large fall. The next move
is a heel-hook rockover to gain the bolt.
Regardless, I was extremely psyched on having a crack at this route, and so I made the judgement call at this point in time to replace the original mild steel bash-in carrots with glue-in stainless steel carrots like-for-like. I returned after dark that night with drill in hand (I chose to wait until the masses of enthusiastic tourists were gone before I set about disturbing the peace with the sound of my hammer drill. I also didn't want to upset the authorities with my antics) and set about the task. As you might imagine, swinging around next to Echo Crack in the dark, with the Three Sisters lit up by floodlights behind me was a strangely eerie experience. But despite my apprehension, I got the midnight rebolting session completed, and returned later that week for one last day of Top Rope Soloing.













The physical crux of P1: a gr24 arete-
sequence. Pure Arete-y awesomeness...
Thankfully, it's bolt protected.
After 2 MORE laps I'd managed to climb the 1st pitch (25m 24 R/X) clean several times on TRS, and could do MOST of the 2nd Pitch (40m 25 R), but I never managed to link past an awkward dyno at about 15m height, and a move immediately after it tended to spit me off quite often. Fortunately, as the dyno was bolt-protected, I had no reason to hold back out of fear for my safety, and so -even though I'd never managed to get the crux pitch clean on TRS- I locked in a date with the Rabid Hamster (Neil Monteith) to make my attempt on the route.
















Neil on the final (crux) moves of P1.
Styling!
We attacked it on a Sunday -while swarms of tourists climbed all over one another to get the best selfie in front of the Three Sisters-, and were joined by Jason McCarthy -who was to be our acting photographer for the day. It might seem strange to organise photos for a route like this, but for some obscure reason Alive in a Bitter Sea had come to mean a lot to me over the years, and to even be there ATTEMPTING it was something special. Success or failure, I really wanted to capture a few key moments of the day forevermore, and Jason was kind enough to forfeit a day of climbing in order to facilitate it. I still had my fixed rope across the exit pitch, and had left 3 other ropes fixed to each of the belays to allow easy access to the start of the climb. Soon enough, Neil and I were at the shale-band belay below the 1st Pitch, and I set about my business (full disclosure: I extended the 2nd bolt with a 2m runner so I could clip from lower down and avoid decking back to the ledge on the opening boulder problem).








Traversing off the belay in the lower section of Pitch 2 (25 R).
Check out the wheelie bin in the bottom-right of the photo!
As it was, the "potentially dangerous" first pitch was dispatched with clinical precision, and I felt solid the whole way, ticking it placing all the gear on lead. Of particular note is the final crux of this pitch: a bolt protected classic arete-sequence up a slightly steep blunt arete, made possible by heel-hooking the other side of the arete to counter the barn-door. A few more thin moves and you're at the anchor... all-in-all, it's a very cool sequence, and it felt spectacular to tackle it on lead. Naturally, Neil seconded me on it, and ALMOST climbed it clean, with just a single rest at the 2nd bolt (after sticking the opening boulder problem sequence off the belay) solely to suss the tenuous and runout traverse section (equally scary on lead as on second, but I'd had the advantage of pre-inspection, whereas Neil was committing to it with no rehearsal whatsoever), before tackling it. With shouted beta from me he pieced together the rest of it beautifully.

The shoulder-buster move... well above
the gear, this move is gripping!
The belay at the end of this pitch semi-hanging is off a Piton, a carrot bolt, and a #4 cam. The moves off the belay are also protected by a #4 (and proceeded with an extremely runout and airy traverse) and another #4 is needed for higher up on this pitch. Top Gear Top Tip: bring at least 3 x #4 cams if you're going to repeat this route!















Any questions?
  
Coiling-up for the crux dyno! "It's now or never!"
Anyway, I cruised off the belay, not even considering the exposure, and up through the initial easy-ish moves. Past some initial early excitement (a shoulder-busting double-gaston crimp sequence several metres above the last piece of pro) to a bolt. Powered past a weird heel-hook section to another bolt, and now I was staring down the guts of the infamous dyno and its gnarly companion move. As I said before, I'd never linked through the extremely awkward cross-body dyno on my TRS laps (and often fell off the next move as well), so I had absolutely no expectations of success. I allowed a brief moment to compose myself, and launched myself at it with gusto. I didn't really expect to stick it, and was lost for a moment when I realised that I was through the move. Even then, I doubted I'd survive the following powerful precision-orientated move, yet somehow, impossibly, I was beyond that as well.

Dan Honeyman and Paul Thomson go Head to Head on the Crux Dyno!
(with a vastly different approach to the sequence) 

Dan Honeyman takes the Lefthand Sequence.
Photo by: Simon Carter (a scan of the photo
from the 2007 edition of Blue Mountains
Climbing).
Paul Thomson takes the Direct Sequence.




























One of the upper-cruxes. The move to
gain the pocket I have with my left
hand is rather gnarly.
The theme of this crux pitch is runout, thin, technical arete/face climbing. It's never easier than gr21, but above the hard moves around the dyno-sequence, it's probably never harder than 23/24. Having made it through the crux for the first time, all I had to do was keep it all together for another 30m of climbing. The upper section is extremely runout, with a single bolt and 4 bits of pro in 30m of climbing (check out the photo of me on the penultimate hard moves if you don't believe me), but any falls from this section would be safe enough (though bloody exciting). It was perhaps this "fear of a monstrous fall" that allowed me to stay engaged and push through 2 more particularly tough sequences, the upper of which was the last sequence on this pitch that I was worried about. It was thin, insecure, awkward, and relied entirely on a smear-footer that is slippery, slopey and scary. When you commit to it you're at least 5m above your last bit of gear (a #2 cam) and I was ecstatic about getting through all of this clean for more than just the impending Send of the pitch. Sucking it up for the final (easy-ish) runouts, I charged ahead and was soon clipping the anchor. Crux pitch done. Alive in a Bitter sea was going down today!!!




Running it out above a #2 cam, through
the final (gr23) crux. This runout
continues for another 5 more meters!
The third pitch is characterised by a desperate bouldery-thin crux right off the belay, making getting to the first bolt rather scary (full disclosure: I pre-clipped the high first bolt from the belay to avoid decking back to the ledge). By this point in time I had the sequence pretty dialled and micro-crimped my way through it, past the first bolt to a "thank god" piece of gear just as you enter into ledgefall territory. The rest of the pitch continues technically past another bolt and up via extremely spaced (but bomber) pro, getting progressively easier all the way to the belay. I clipped into the belay, and brought up the Rabid Hamster (who also got the pitch clean) to join me.














Jason (our Cameraman) poses for
a selfie with a buggered (but
victorious) climbing Obscurist.
On the belay below P3.
After this, the traverse off (P4) was inconsequential (aside from needing to haul out about 200m of rope, and a beard-strokers' hoard of large cams), but soon enough we were all back on the mainland, and the last of the major objectives on my "professional climbing bum(bly)" tick list was completed. To me, it felt especially powerful to score a rare clean repeat (placing gear) of this particularly obscure and committing route, but with this goal accomplished, I unexpectedly found myself feeling empty and directionless. I'd been frothing like a madman 6 days a week about anything and everything climbing-related for over 2 years, and suddenly I had no clear objectives in front of me. Furthermore, I had an unavoidable timeframe before all of this would come to an end.

Change can be intimidating.

With all this in mind, it seemed strangely ironic (perhaps even predestined, though I don't believe in fate), that my beloved Delica's automatic gearbox EXPLODED into a cataclysm of shrapnel like a Claymore mine during the course of the very day I ticked Alive in a Bitter Sea, leaving me without the home I'd lived in for much of my sabbatical. Coincidence?





Anyway, since Alive in a Bitter Sea is rarely climbed, here's my gear list for any prospective repeat ascensionists (spoiler alert!):

Initial Belay = 2 x Carrots.
P1 (25m 24 R/X) - Bolt, Bolt, Medium Wires + #0.5 Cam, #1 + #2 Cam, #0.5 Cam, Medium Wire, Bolt. Belay = Piton + Carrot + #4 Cam.
P2 (40m 25 R) - #4 Cam, #3/#4 Cam, #3 Cam, Bolt, Bolt, #1 Cam, #4/#5 Cam, Bolt, #2 Cam (Consider a 2nd #2 cam here), #0.4 Cam. Belay = 3 x Carrots.
P3 (15m 23 R) - Bolt, #0.3/#0.4 Cam, Bolt, #0.50, #0.50, other optional gear possible: #0.75 - #3. Belay = 3 x Carrots.
P4 (10m 15) - #1 Cam, Bolt, Bolt, Bolt, #0.75 Cam. Belay = 3 x Carrots + 1 Fixed Hanger.

By this point in time I had just a single week of freedom left, and so it was that I committed wholeheartedly to accomplish as much as I could during this final week, in a full-contact onslaught of blitzkrieg proportions...

But that's a story for another day.

A victory cheer after Sending Big Red (60m 27) (see previous blog update).
Photo by: Simon Carter.


Thursday, 22 September 2016

Perry's Lookdown: Back in Fashion!

Despite the common perception that the Blue Mountains is Australia's "Sport Climbing Mecca", I've always believed that its real selling point as a unique climbing destination is found in its "easy access exposure".

There are numerous major "Sport Climbing" destinations in Australia which offer as great a volume and variety of convenient quality clip-ups as the Blueys, but the large number of consumer-friendly large-scale well-equipped multipitch climbs is the one thing that makes this place truly special, even on a world scale.

So, what do you do when you're a Blueys climber suffering a crisis of purpose and motivation? You go and tackle some big adventurous routes in the Blueys.



Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25)


Photo by: Simon Carter
( http://www.onsight.com.au/product/red-edge/ )
First on the list was Red Edge (180m 6-Pitch Mixed 25) at Perry's Lookdown.

Known in climbing circles primarily due to a classic Simon Carter photo of Mike Law performing the terrifyingly exposed crux moves of the climb (shown to the left), Neil Monteith had some hilarious unfinished business with the route that had hung over his head like the proverbial Sword of Damocles for the last 2 years.

Photo also by: Simon Carter (and
pinched from Neil's Facebook Page).
Legend has it that after lugging out 200m of static rope (to do the multi-pitch abseil-in as a single giant abseil) and rapping all the way to the ground, his partner -Will- became ill with food poisoning, forcing Neil to undergo the 200m "Jumaar of Shame" back to the top. This moment of defeat was captured by Simon's immortal photo (also shown to the left), and insult was added to injury as this photo was published in Simon's "Rock Climbing Down Under: Australia Exposed" coffee book for all the world to see. Needless to say, Neil was keen to finally put this smear on his climbing record to rest.

On the 28th August we made our way out to Perry's Lookdown, where friends of ours -Jason McCarthy and Adam Pecan- had kindly left 180m of rope in situ (they were climbing the nearby route "The Regular Route" that day) making the abseil to the base of the climb a cinch. By 10am we were below the start of the route, and ready to rock.






Neil on the easier upper section of Pitch 1 (23),
with all of his obligatory whimpering behind him.
The crux of the first pitch (40m 23) was the first 10m off the ground, and was all Neil's to enjoy. The first carrot bolt (yes, most of the bolts on this climb are carrots!) is quite high, but Monty managed to stick clip it in classic Trad-dad fashion with the help of a spare sling and a wire. Starting up a shallow layback flake and quickly becoming punchy thin-face climbing on spaced gear, the pitch eventually ends up on the arete, at which point its a fairly pleasant cruise to the belay. Both Neil and I climbed it clean -though not without some desperate snatches and epic flash pump, and a spot of entertaining whimpering from Neil.













Neil's photo of me on the easy (but
incredibly run-out) arete of Pitch 2 (25).
The next pitch (40m 25) begins in frustratingly common Blueys fashion, with a nails undercut boulder-problem start right off the belay. I had a bit of a lash at the crimp-dyno start, but deemed it too tedious to put much effort into, and ended up pulling past it to the 2nd bolt. This pitch is alternatively written up as 22M1 (pulling on the first bolt to gain the second), and that's how I climbed it. Despite the impurity of a not totally free pitch, aiding the first move does make this pitch more pleasant, as you climb past 2 more bolts of punchy gr22 face climbing, before entering into relatively easy but terrifically runout face climbing on dubious gear. As I wandered my way up the pitch -traversing out to the arete, now back to the face, and back to the arete again- I did begin to wonder whether perhaps Neil had lead me off-route, due to the incredibly sparse and dubious pro and rather flaky rock. But all's well that ends well, and I managed to make it to the belay without dying.










Jason McCarthy's photo of Neil
getting creative to place some pro on
Pitch 3 (23). Taken from the P4 belay
on The Regular Route.
Neil's second lead was a corker of a pitch. Graded 23 officially, but probably more 21/22 in reality, it commences with an improbable sequence up a holdless slabby arete, before meandering to the belay in a rising leftwards traverse on beautiful orange rock. With no real crux, and plentiful -though spaced- gear, it was just the type of quality we needed to finally get inspired by this purportedly classic route. Slightly overhanging, the theme of this pitch was "keep your shit together" and despite some more hilariously frenzied dialogue from Neil (I find it hilarious when Monty gets scared on a climb, does that make me a sadist?), both of us managed to do exactly that, climbing the Pitch clean to the belay.

Looking down Pitch 3 as I meander my way up it. Brilliant!

Sticking the crux moves of the 24M1
version of "The Money Pitch"...
For some reason I'm going feet
first to the arete?
Next up was the infamous "money pitch" of this route - P4 25m (25). As you can probably work out from the photo, this ball-shriveling pitch traverses a bouldery-thin headwall above an enormously exposed undercut roof to gain an arete, which you then climb to the belay.

The first carrot bolt was stupidly high, with no additional pro, and 6m of utter cheese to negotiate to get to it. Fortunately, the climbing was much easier than I expected, and with the bolt clipped I found myself staring stupidly at a truly unfathomable crux. With some technical trickery I managed to clip another bolt further left, and despite the route description to "stay right of the first bolt for a few moves" -which seemed completely illogical at the time- I tried to climb the route direct up a series of invisible holds. I managed to stick a few moves and was probably one foot movement away from onsighting the crux using a grade 1-million sequence, but eventually fell off. Like the 2nd Pitch, this pitch is also written up with an "aid variant" at 24M1, whereby you pull on the 2nd bolt to reach the 3rd, and free from there. After falling off -and having no bloody idea where the actual "line" of this pitch went-, I decided to try and Onsight the 24M1 variant.






Neil hanging on the bolt on the aid move of the 24M1 variant
to Pitch 4. "How the hell does this go free?"
In the photo of Mike on the pitch, he's climbing left-hip into the wall, and working his hands onto the arete. For some reason, while Onsighting the moves from the 3rd bolt, past the 4th, and out onto the arete, I ended up leading feet-first. From the last "okay" handhold (and with no good feet to speak of), I flicked my heels around the arete to heel-hook it, and commenced a full-trust rock-over, eventually laybacking the arete in desperation (and with no idea what exactly I was blindly heel-hooking). Tucking in tightly to the arete, I managed to find a reasonable footer on the face around to the left side, and switched to using that, completing the rock-over and ending up on the face to the left side of the arete. Once around the arete, one more grade 23 thin arete/face move guards easier climbing to the anchors, and I arrived there utterly gripped and shaking from the adrenaline rush. What a pitch!


Neil about to commit to the -frankly-
nutty crux of the climb.
It's only when you're above the crux, looking down, that you can really understand how this pitch is supposed to go free at the grade: from the 1st bolt, you clip the 2nd bolt from an undercling (immediately next to the undercut roof), then climb up right of the first bolt until it's at your waist, traverse left over it via a fairly reasonable flake, and climb down a move to gain the clipping hold at the 3rd bolt. It seems ludicrously improbable, and the bolts don't exactly "lead the way" (though they are in the right places), but upon reflection it actually seems intriguingly convoluted, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't get a chance to have a crack at the true free version of this pitch.

Neil followed me using more or less the same 24M1 version, and with the same total bewilderment at the around-the-world nature of the truly free version of this pitch. Both equally adrenalised and psyched for more, Monty started up the final "hard" Pitch of the route: Pitch 5 (35m 24).

This too was a stellar pitch of sustained climbing in a true endurance vein (and featuring a long-ish power-endurance crux). Hard moves off the belay to gain the arete, then you're thrust into the thick of the action with powerful moves up a series of holds that are never as good as you want them to be. The rock is both physically and aesthetically gorgeous, but with the mini-epic of carrot-bolts and spaced gear, this pitch proved to be too much for the intrepid Rabid Hamster, with the metaphorical wheels falling off about halfway up, and some entertaining aid-climbing shenanigans ensuing.

Neil enters the power-endurance crux of Pitch
5 (24).
After he reached the top, I -steel feeling strong and very psyched at this point- was determined to climb the pitch clean on second, having presumed that Neil's fear and lack of multipitch fitness (he is a new Dad, after all, and forever consigned to half-day climbing) was the only thing that made this pitch tough. Inevitably, I was proven wrong, as I grew desperate on the final powerful moves of the long crux and over-extended myself to avoid using a bad intermediate. I was totally strung out 2-moves from victory, and consequently fell of. D'oh! "Alright Neil, I suppose it's hard".

The last "Megaclassic" Pitch (P6 - 20m gr10) was -unfortunately- mine, and was a pretty standard Blueys "exit pitch", consisting of vertical gardening, loose rock, dirt, a few vaguely climbing related moves, and the odd bit of mandatory pro. We topped out and were back at the car approximately 6.5hours after we left, where Adam and Jason had kindly pulled up the 150m of fixed ropes and neatly coiled them for us. What great chaps!

From here it was to the pub to recount the days events and stop war stories of sketchy multipitches, told with the aid of a thousand-yard stare across a schooner of stout. 

So, what of the route itself? Pitches 3, 4 and 5 were Classic. Pitch 1 and 2 were Average, and Pitch 6 was terrible. The rock was a mixed bag, but mostly was quite good, and the positions were undeniably inspiring. The good bits of climbing were particularly good, and especially if you're open to aiding -literally- 2 moves, then it's not even particularly cruxy. The runouts, carrots, and sparse gear make this a fairly serious undertaking. Not exactly "dangerous", but certainly not a route I'd recommend to anyone who didn't have a good, bold trad head and keenness for "adventurous climbing". As a Blueys adventure route, I'd give this 3 stars (with the above caveat), and I do recommend it to anyone who isn't put off by its "old-school" adventurous nature.


The Regular Route (7-Pitch 220m Sport 25/26) 

 

Jason on belay and Adam on Second on
Pitch 5 of The Regular Route (24).
For the entire time that Neil and I were on Red Edge, we were looking across at Jason and Adam on The Regular Route, a newly freed route originally bolted by Jason Clark back in the Dark Ages (and now climbed by Lee Cossey). From our perspective on the neighbouring arete, the line looks utterly spectacular, and just to demonstrate my point, here's a photo of Jason and Adam on The Regular Route that I took from Red Edge:

Inspired by this, Neil and I made plans to tackle the route in its entirety the following weekend (4th September, 2016). Clearly the route had left a good impression on Jason and Adam, as Jason had -unbeknownst to us- teamed up with his partner Jenna to reclimb it the very same day, and Adam had arranged to reclimb it with his missus -Carolyn- the following day. Clearly it must be good, right?

This time it was our turn to fix the ropes, so I lugged 180m of static ropes to the cliff edge, and rapped in -having to negotiate 2 knots in the process-. For future climbers of The Regular Route, here's an interesting little factoid that might make the abseil in a lot easier: you only need 130m of rope to reach the big ledge (with a bit to spare), and with a single doubled 70m dynamic you can abseil again from there to the base of the route.


Neil, just above the crux of Pitch 1 (23). Note the aretes of
Red Edge at the far left of the picture.
Neil scored himself the first pitch (again), and in a repeat of last-weeks effort managed to battle up the initial crux moves (more or less straight off the ground), cruise the easier middle-section, and teeter his way up the slightly runout thin-slab finale to the top. With Jason and Jenna now arriving at the base of the fixed ropes to start up the route, I jumped on and launched myself at the crux. Trying to use Neil's sequence (he sidled somewhat right at the crux), I promptly broke off a hold that he'd used, and fell most of the way back to the ground on stretch. Pulling back on at the first bolt (with 2m of gr18 between there and the ground), I climbed more directly up (which, having done it, is definitely the "correct" way to do the pitch), and continued cleanly to the anchors. Lapping at my heels by now, Jason and Jenna both tackled this pitch after me, and managed to climb it clean using my sequence through the crux. Unfortunately this pitch has some crap, friable rock on it, but despite this it's still okay climbing (and is, in hindsight, the worst pitch of the entire route).

Next up was -what would turn out to be- the crux of the entire route. A 40m pitch that was originally graded 24, it has all the hallmarks of a Cosmic County-esque classic in the vein of Toyland Direct, Aesthetic Images or Building a Better Mousetrap. Beautiful rippled orange rock, very slightly overhanging, relentlessly thin... I was psyched!

Neil seconding Pitch 2 (25/26), on the last of the hard moves.
Note the chalk braille below him, and Jason and Jenna on belay.
But I hadn't made it very far before I realised that it was proper hard. I got off-route at the 3rd bolt and had a big swinging whip. Even having another crack from the belay, I fell several more times before I found the crucial fingernail-edge holds up a rounded leaning-flake. Some easy moves led to an exciting traverse, which concluded with a solid gr24 sequence to gain the next bolt, after 5m of horizontal runout. Immediately after this bolt is the next crux: some punchy thin moves on microflake edges with improbably high-stepping and balancy rock-overs (and another desperate clip). After performing a tenuous mantle, its still a solid gr23 to the belay. Arriving at the belay I was pretty trashed, but the difficulties I found were vindicated when Neil had at least as much trouble, and had the forethought to leave a giant sling on the crazy-runout section, which was clipped by our chasers with a great deal of relief. Despite some valiant efforts from Jason and Jenna, none of us managed to get this pitch clean Onsight, Flash or on Second... We arrived at the conclusion that this pitch is either utterly nails 25, or soft-ish 26... Quite the sandbag, considering its original grading.

With Monty feeling utterly smashed after seconding the previous pitch, and me having had a chance to rest while belaying him on it, we switched leads and I started up Pitch 3, a 25m pitch also graded gr24. Considering what the previous "24" pitch had consisted of, I was a bit apprehensive, and sure enough I was soon feeling clobbered with another hefty sandbag. Jason had warned me the week before that there was a move on this pitch that didn't even seem possible, and it would turn out that he was right.

Jason and Adam on Pitch 3 (25) the previous
week. You can see Jason here attempting to
"Red Herring" direct version of the Pitch.
A series of spectacular face moves on beautiful orange rock took me to the arete, with some funky arete moves to a horizontal below a roof bulge. The bolt on the arete seems to indicate that you should go direct up through the bulge, but after climbing up to try the sequence a few times, it seemed highly improbably at the grade. Still on link (I could easily retreat to a perfect handjam and camp-out there to strategise), I decided to try another sequence going directly up the face on a series of thin technical moves. Impossibly I managed to stick the sequence, arriving at an "okay" hold, with only a few exciting (but comparatively easy) moves to gain the arete guarding the way to success. But looking down, and seeing that last bolt quite a few metres below me and positioned on the arete, and realising that a fall from here was a ground-fall, I opted to downclimb a few moves and jump off.

As you might imagine, I was pissed off to fail, and I ended up using the bolt to pull past the move and climb the arete directly. The remainder of the pitch was easier, but continually interesting arete climbing, but with literally all of the bolts in completely and utterly the wrong places (on the left side of the arete when you're climbing the right side, and needlessly runout when you end up in the centre of the face). None of us managed to actually get this pitch clean, with Jenna committing to the same face-sequence as I did, only to -also- back-off when she saw the ground-fall potential.

 Neil climbing the corner-crack, the traverse
line is just above him.
"Thank god, we've found an easy pitch!"
Talking to Lee Cossey afterwards, it turns out that you do actually go up the face on this pitch, and the existing bolt in this section was one of Justin Clark's rap-bolted original placements, whereby he was hoping the line would go direct up the arete. D'oh!

So, 3 pitches down, and 2 of them had been grossly sandbagged and had spanked us seven ways 'til Sunday.... Things were looking great!

Fortunately for us, with 4 pitches still remaining, this was the turning point. Pitch 4 was originally graded 23, but felt more like 21, as it climbed a sharp but enjoyable corner-crack (with ample stemming opportunities), before traversing boldly across the face on a radical line of jugs to gain the arete. Though the pitch was a bit wet, and the rock on the traverse a bit grainy (probably the worst rock on the climb), this was a stellar pitch, and ridiculously soft at gr23. All of us floated up it easily.








Neil, about to commit to the crux of Pitch 5 (24). Exposure
much?
This was followed up with a brilliant sustained technical arete (24) on spectacular orange/red rock. Complex, tricky, sustained, and featuring ludicrous exposure with all the world positioned below you. I managed to onsight this classic pitch (though not without some difficulties, as I fought to find the holds and sequences on the unforgiving arete) and Neil followed suit. This pitch was about right at the grade, for which we were both extremely grateful.









Neil's photo of Adam just above the roof-turn
of Pitch 6 (22) the previous week.

Now that we were on a roll, confidence was high, and the psyche was back! Neil threw himself a Pitch 6 (23) with gusto, and was surprised to find that this pitch was also pretty soft at the grade (and also featured at least 2 bolts in completely the wrong places). Stepping out over the sucking void, he climbed the right side of a slabby arete to a stance below a square-cut roof. Steeling himself, Monty launched himself through the roof-cum-arete, and blasted up the juggy headwall above to the belay. Though the rock was not as great as some of the previous pitches, the climbing is generally enjoyable, and the position (and moves) are the very definition of funky. I followed Neil up it with glee, and Jason and Jenna soon pursued us cleanly.










Jenna contemplates the crux of Pitch 5 (24), and Jason
shows off for the camera.
The last pitch of The Regular Route is the same as the last pitch of A Date with Density, and a 40m 23 steep-ish pumper on sculpted red rock of extremely high quality. This sort of climbing is my area of expertise, and I blasted up it for the Onsight (having never climbed A Date with Density), loving every minute of it. It concludes with a long section of slabbing on inferior grey rock, but at this point, nothing could spoil the awesomeness of this pitch. What a great way to finish the climb!

We topped out, pulled up our 180m of fixed ropes, and were soon joined by Jason and Jenna, returning to the cars a mere 7 hours after we set off. Buggered? Hell yes, but what a bloody great day!

Neil finishes the grey slab at the top of Pitch 7 (23) while
Jason pursues him from Pitch 6 (22).
So, how do I rate the route? Well, for a bolted hard-ish multipitch in the Blueys, it is quite literally the best one that I've ever climbed (even better Grossness or Weaselburger), with 7 spectacular pitches of high quality climbing and generally brilliant rock. There are no crappy "access pitches" or "exit pitches", nor any of the weird vertical gardening pitches so common to the larger Blueys Multis (I'm looking at you, Hotel California!). If you discount the somewhat nutty grading, only the poorly placed bolts in a few sections mar this route and make it far more committing, dangerous, and rope-shredding than it needs to be. Our consensus of the final grades for this route are: 23, 25/26, 25, 21, 24, 22, 23.

Talking to Lee Cossey about this route after we finished it, I shared my opinion of the routes quality, as well as my recommendations about the grades and the bolting. He was extremely receptive and psyched to hear that we rated the climb so highly. He also advised that he will head out within the next few weeks and fix up the bolts (in particular: adding a bolt to the crazy sideways runout on P2; Moving the bolt from the arete to the face on P3 and possibly relocating some of the bolts to the "correct side" of the arete on this pitch; and moving several of the bolts on P6 to reduce the epic rope drag). This might even be done by now, and if it is, then I have absolutely no qualms about advocating this as the quintessential Blueys hard-ish Sport Multi. If you can hack the grade, you need to get on it. The word "classic" was created to describe this route.



And Then...

 

I was due to head down to the Grampians with Ben Jenga for a week of crushing on beautiful quartzite sandstone, but before I left I had some unfinished business.

For a few weeks I'd been playing on an old Mike Law route Big Red (60m 27) out at Corroborree Walls, Mount Victoria in my spare time. With a view to leading it eventually, I put in one day of Top Rope Soloing on it each week during the time that I was back, mostly just wanting to have something a bit obscure (and given 4-stars in the recent edition of the Blue Mountains Climbing Guidebook) to try and rebuild the psyche after my recent depression.

The line of Big Red (60m 27).
Despite appearances, it's not
actually as close to the corner
as this photo might suggest.
An eye-catching flame-red in colour, this monster-pitch of climbing is extremely varied in climbing style, rock-quality, sustainedness and rock-type. Marred by 3 shale-bands over its 60m length (none of which you actually have to touch, as you simply pull past them) and 8 rather blatant chipped pockets, it was recently re-bolted by Dr Chris Coghill and Even Wells. The route itself starts with about 12m 22 technical slab to a rest, before plunging headfirst into the first crux, a steep and powerful gr24 sequence, to another rest. This leads to a gr23 sequence and the next long crux, featuring some technical moves up a flake, and a series of powerful pocket-pounces which clocks in at gr24/25. A tricky no-hands rest, some enjoyable easy face climbing, and a punchy set of moves through a huge bulge (23/24) to another no hands rest. Finally, you tackle the red-point crux: a tough series of powerful moves through another bulge on surprisingly small holds, culminating it an utterly nails move to stand up into a bad undercling above your head, get your left foot to the same height as your shoulders, stand-up into it and drive-by at full-span to a good ledge, and the anchor.

After 4 days of Top Rope Soloing I had it pretty dialed, and on 7th September 2016 I decided to drag my old man out to belay me on a lead shot of it.






One of Simon's photos of me on Big Red, on the
final moves of the 2nd crux (24/25) punchy
pocketed section,
Simon Carter had also mentioned the possibility of getting photos of me on it -since it's currently given an unprecedented 4-stars, and he'd never had the chance to capture anyone climbing it, so he came out to join us for the day.

My first shot went quite well, but I missed a pocket that I was pouncing for at the 2nd crux (the 24/25 pocketed section) and -due to my habit of skipping clips- resulted in a rather massive whip (and the inevitable efforts of gravity to pull my substantially lighter Old Man through the first quickdraw).

After a quick rest, I went up again, and over an epic 40min I managed to top out the climb clean, scoring a rare repeat of this route, and a much-needed win before my trip to the Grampians.

With respect to the route itself... In my not-so-humble opinion, it's definitely not a 4-star climb, and in reality is probably more of a 2-star affair. It's still enjoyable in an adventurous kind of way, but the numerous blatant chips and the very mixed quality of the rock robs it from ever being a true classic.







"Ugh..." Our beautiful campsite at Buandik.
With that done and dusted, I headed off to the Gramps with Ben Jenga, Matt Springall, Lloyd "Methane Maestro" Wishard, Jason "Pommy" Smith, and Julian Hurrell. The weather forecast appeared to be utterly hideous, and -as it turned out- it has, in fact, been utterly hideous.

Nevertheless, we push on. Abandoning any hope of climbing on Taipan or Eureka Wall, we've stuck to the caves and a few of our number have managed to crush.

Good weather or bad weather, nothing is going to stop us enjoying a climbing trip to The Gramps...  

"Wait... What..? Ah dammit!"